Snowstorm still on track to stall Midwest freight markets (with forecast video)

Plow clearing snowy Ohio road.

A significant winter storm is still on track to dump heavy snowfall across parts of the Great Lakes, Northeast and southeastern Canada over the next couple of days. The track of the storm may end up a bit south of yesterday’s forecast, but it will still impact drivers and freight movement in several states and on major highways.

SONAR Critical Events: Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, 10 a.m. EST; Great Lakes snowstorm

Setup and snowfall amounts

A low pressure system along the Ohio River Valley and upper-atmospheric energy to its northwest are sending plenty of moisture into the Great Lakes states. Rain is changing to snow in some areas. But most of the accumulating snowfall will begin this afternoon and evening, a little later than previously expected, as northerly winds pull colder air into the storm. Snowfall will spread from northern Missouri and Illinois to northern Indiana, southern Michigan, northwestern Ohio and southeastern Canada.

The Chicago and Toronto metropolitan areas will probably see 6 inches or fewer of total snowfall through Wednesday night. But places such as Detroit, Ann Arbor, Toledo, South Bend, Ft. Wayne, and Montreal, Canada could get more than 6 inches, possibly close to 12 inches. Winds will be gusty enough at times to cause blowing snow and reduce visibility on the following highways: Interstates 90, 94, 80, 88, 65, 55, 57, 69, and 75, in addition to the Trans-Canada Highway.

The storm will slam parts of upstate New York and interior New England on Thursday with possible blizzard conditions. After the core of the system moves out to sea Thursday night, lake effect snow showers will keep portions of I-81 and I-90 risky for truckers making regional runs, or trying to make long-haul runs from the Northeast to the Midwest, Mountain Prairie or Northwest regions.

Downwind of eastern Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, places like Oswego, Watertown, Jamestown and Orchard Park, New York could get slammed with 12 to 24 inches of snowfall and wind gusts of 40 mph late Wednesday night through Saturday afternoon.

Impact on freight

The impending storm may be responsible for some of the recent market behavior in the Great Lakes. Outbound volumes have been either decreasing or remaining steady in most markets within the storm’s potential impact zone. But despite the decline, there’s still a decent amount of outbound volume available (OTVI), indicated by the blue-shaded areas on the FreightWaves SONAR map below (left-hand image). Outbound tender rejections in some of these markets have also been decreasing in the past week. This means carriers have been accepting more loads offered by shippers, trying to secure as many loads as possible before the storm arrives.

SONAR Tickers: OTVI (left); OTLT.DTW, OTLT.TOL (right)

But there’s a storm coming! Carriers usually avoid sending drivers into a snowstorm. However, SONAR also shows that shippers have gradually extended their outbound tender lead times in some markets, like Detroit (OTLT.DTW) and Toledo (OTLT.TOL), so carriers can wait until after the storm to make their pick-ups. Lead time is the amount of days between the time a carrier accepts a load from a shipper and the time the load is picked up. Lead times in Detroit and Toledo right now are more than three days.

The developing storm may stall or slow freight flows over the next few days, potentially rebounding later this week/early next week as temperatures gradually warm up across the region and road conditions improve.

Other notable weather

Strong crosswinds will be an issue for anyone deadheading across southern California today and tonight, including the Los Angeles and San Diego areas. Crosswinds will also be a challenge for drivers along the I-40 corridor from the Texas Panhandle into New Mexico. Gusts could reach 50 mph in any of the places mentioned.

Periods of heavy rainfall today and Wednesday could drench parts of the Florida Panhandle and northeastern Florida. Occasional delays are likely on sections of I-10, I-75  and I-95.

Have a great day, and be careful out there!